Outcry over Australian states’ 14-day ban on international shipping

Aerial view of Port of Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. Credit: Brisbane Port Australia

Maritime Safety Queensland (MSQ) announced a 14-day quarantine on all commercial ships to Australia from international ports on 18 March.

“A ship must not enter a Queensland pilotage area until 14 days have elapsed since the ship or any relevant person on board the ship left a country outside Australia … unless prior written approval has been obtained from the general manager of MSQ,” the authority said.

The move follows an earlier MSQ announcement on 5 March banning all ships from mainland China and South Korea from entering Australian ports until 14 days after sailing.

Other ports that have taken extreme measures are Southern Ports and Port Authority of New South Wales, according to Shipping Australia (SAL).

All cruise ships were also denied entry to Australian ports federally on 15 March.

SAL proclaimed the move “reckless and indefensible”.

SAL CEO Rod Nairn said, “Shipping Australia Limited is strongly opposed to any 14-day ban on cargo ships entering any port. Australians need regular cargo ship calls to maintain the supply of vital imports and Australia’s economy is completely dependent on exports by sea.”

Some ship voyages only take two to three days to reach Australia’s northern shores.

Nairn calculated that if each day at sea costs USD14,316, shipments from hubs, such as Singapore or Port Klang in Malaysia, could add USD143,000 in costs to the 6–8 day transit.

“Shipping lines simply cannot afford to pay for ships to uselessly wait around and not deliver freight for 6–10 days,” Nairn said.

The ban would also impact the delivery of key goods to Australia where toilet paper and other goods are in high demand and are sparking altercations among shoppers.

However, SAL supports the federal policy of prohibiting shore leave for crew until 14 days have passed since the vessel’s last international port of call.

Seafarers should simply remain on board and not mix with the Australian community, he said.

Freight & Trade Alliance (FTA), which backed Shipping Australia to reverse the ban as an “all of industry” approach, announced MSQ had exempted shipping from New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, and Southwest Pacific Nations.

“FTA applauds this change and trust that similar considerations will be provided to some of our other close neighbours, Singapore, Malaysia, etc,” said John Park, head of business operations at FTA.

Meanwhile, the president of the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) and secretary of Maritime Union of Australia, Paddy Crumlin, has written to the Australian Prime Minister calling for greater national biosecurity restrictions on foreign shipping.

Crumlin raised concerns on gaps in the system after attending meetings with the ITF and international shipping industry in London.

“Australia is alarmingly out of step with both inter-agency networking and contemporary developments in biosecurity,” he said.

Crumlin said the Australian system still relies on self-declaration of health by the vessel masters prior to entry.

“Our pre-arrival reporting system continues to be a completely inadequate response to this global pandemic,” he said.

The current system is putting the health of Australian maritime workers at risk.